1. Ozone is a major constituent of air pollution in the summer. Epidemiological studies have demonstrated that there is an increase in hospital admissions for respiratory diseases 1 day after peak levels of ambient ozone. This may be due to an increase in the responsiveness of the airways to bronchoconstrictor stimuli.
2. In the present study we therefore studied the effect of a controlled exposure to ozone on the maximal degree of airway narrowing to a non-specific bronchoconstrictor, methacholine, 12 h after exposure. Both non-asthmatic and mild-asthmatic volunteers were exposed to ozone.
3. The study had a single blind design. Experimental exposures were to filtered air, 0.40 ppm ozone and filtered air respectively, at 1-week intervals. The duration of each exposure was 2 h with alternating periods of 15 min rest and exercise. At 12 h after exposure, methacholine inhalation challenge tests and sputum induction were performed.
4. Twelve hours after exposure to ozone there was a significant increase in the maximal degree of airway narrowing to methacholine (P < 0.02) compared with exposure to air, in non-asthmatic as well as asthmatic subjects. These physiological changes were accompanied by a significant rise in the percentage of neutrophils in induced sputum (P < 0.02). All changes had returned to baseline values 1 week after exposure to ozone.
5. Exposure to ozone causes a transient increase in the maximal degree of airway narrowing to methacholine in both non-asthmatic and asthmatic subjects. These laboratory results, obtained using relatively high ozone exposure in carefully selected subjects, might provide an explanation for the temporal relationship between ambient ozone levels and hospital admissions for asthma.